India's Hunger Paradox

India's Hunger Paradox 

The phrase "India's Hunger Paradox" refers to the country's experience of malnutrition, hunger, and economic expansion. India is one of the world's top producers of food, but it also has one of the highest rates of malnutrition, with a significant portion of its population suffering from undernutrition.

Zero Food Prevalence in India

NFHS-5 Data:

    • According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), 18% of mothers who had children between the ages of 6 and 23 months who had "zero-food" in the 24 hours before the survey reported that their child had not eaten anything.
  • Zero-food prevalence:
    • 30 percent for infants aged 6-11 months.
    • 13 percent among the 12-17 months old.
    • 8 percent among the 18-23 months old.
  • There are significant food group deprivations for an estimated 60 lakh children in India between the ages of 6 and 23 months who have no access to food on a daily basis.
  • Over 80% of participants reported going a whole day without ingesting any protein-rich foods (also known as "zero-protein").
  • For an entire day, 40% of people did not consume any grains (such as roti, rice, etc.).
  • Among children, six out of ten do not regularly consume milk or any other dairy product ("zero milk").

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the following daily calorie intake for children: 

  • 33 percent of the daily caloric intake is anticipated at age six months to come from food.
  • 61 percent of the daily caloric intake is anticipated to come from food at the age of 12 months.
  • The child is assumed to obtain the remaining calories through breastfeeding, which means that the child is fed whenever they require it throughout the day and night and not just when the mother is available to do so.
  • When a child is unable to receive breast milk when necessary, the percentage of calories from food sources only rises further.

India’s Hunger Paradox Background

What is Food Security?

In order for everyone to live an active and healthy life, they must all have access to enough food that is safe, nourishing, and meets their dietary needs. This condition is known as food security.

This involves several aspects, including:

  • Availability of food through production and imports
  • Accessibility of food without any discrimination, and
  • Affordability of food for everyone.

Since there must be enough food for everyone, they must have the means to buy it, and there must be no obstacles in the way of obtaining it, food security can only be achieved when all people have access to it without restriction.

Food Insecurity:

  • The absence of regular access to enough, safe, and nourishing food required for an active and healthy life is referred to as food insecurity.
  • Poverty, conflict, natural disasters, climate change, and insufficient food distribution systems are some of the causes.
  • Malnutrition, stunted growth, chronic diseases, and other health issues can result from a lack of food.

Framework for Food Security in India:

Out of 121 nations, India was ranked 107th in the 2022 Global Hunger Index. India has a serious level of hunger with a score of 29.1.

Right to Food: Although the fundamental right to life (Article 21) is not expressly stated in the Indian Constitution, it can be interpreted to include the right to live with human dignity, which may include having access to food and other necessities.

Buffer Stock: Purchasing food grains at the minimum support price (MSP) and storing them in storage facilities across the country is the responsibility of the Food Corporation of India (FCI). Then, as needed, these food grains are given to state governments.

Public Distribution System (PDS): The PDS is a crucial component of the government's strategy for controlling India's food economy.

The PDS is not intended to meet every requirement for any commodity; rather, it is meant to be a supplement.

Wheat, rice, sugar, and kerosene are currently distributed to the states and union territories by the PDS.

Through PDS outlets, some states and UTs also distribute additional goods like pulses, edible oils, iodized salt, and spices.

National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013:            

Launch: The National Food Security Act (NFSA) was announced by the Union government in 2013.

Goal: To ensure that people have access to enough good food in sufficient quantities at prices that allow them to live respectably throughout their entire life cycle.

The Act establishes a State Food Commission (SFC) in each State and the District of Columbia to oversee and evaluate the Act's implementation.

What are the Causes of Hunger?

There are various causes of hunger, including:

Poverty: The main causes of hunger are a lack of resources and money to buy food. Low pay, a dearth of employment opportunities, a lack of education, and insufficient social protection programs are just a few of the many causes of poverty.

Conflict and Instability: Wars, armed conflicts, and political unrest can cause displaced people to move and food systems to be disrupted. People frequently lose their homes, jobs, and food sources in such circumstances.

Climate Change: Crop failures, decreased yields, and a shortage of food can be the result of extreme weather events like droughts, floods, and storms. The spread of diseases and pests, which can reduce crop productivity, is also a result of climate change.

Food Waste: Food waste happens throughout the food supply chain, from production to consumption. Food becomes less affordable and more expensive for those who cannot afford it as a result of this waste.

Uneven Resource Distribution: Uneven resource distribution, including that of land, water, and agricultural inputs, frequently leads to food scarcity. Small farmers and communities with low socioeconomic status frequently lack access to resources, in contrast to large landowners and agribusinesses.

Lack of Infrastructure: Poor roads, storage facilities, and transportation systems all contribute to inadequate infrastructure, which can result in food loss, spoilage, and waste. This may lead to a shortage of food and raise the price of food.

Gender Inequality: Due to gender inequality, discrimination, and limited access to resources like resources, women and girls are frequently the ones who suffer from hunger the most.

These are only a few of the factors that contribute to hunger, and addressing them calls for a multifaceted strategy involving public policies, private sector initiatives, and initiatives from civil society.

Social and Cultural Factors Contributing to Malnutrition:

Malnutrition is significantly influenced by social and cultural factors. These elements may consist of:

Traditional Beliefs and Practices: Conventional beliefs and practices, such as prohibitions on specific foods, may make it more difficult to access a balanced diet. For instance, the range of foods that people eat may be limited in some cultures because particular foods are stigmatized.

Lack of Education: Women in particular may have limited knowledge of and understanding of the value of nutrition and a balanced diet due to low levels of education. This may cause people to make poor dietary decisions and cause malnutrition.

Food habits: Poor eating practices, such as consuming too many high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, can lead to malnutrition. For instance, eating fast food, drinking sugary beverages, and eating highly processed foods can result in obesity and other diet-related diseases.

Poverty and inequality: These two factors can restrict access to nutrient-rich food and cause malnutrition. Malnutrition is more likely to occur in people who are poor because they may not have the money to buy wholesome food or access medical care.

Cultural Preferences: Malnutrition may also be influenced by cultural preferences for particular foods. As an illustration, some cultures favor diets high in protein and others in carbohydrates. This may result in unbalanced diets and help to cause malnutrition.

Food Accessibility: Access to food has an impact on malnutrition. There is a tendency to rely on unhealthy and processed foods in many areas because there are few or no readily available healthy food options.

Education and awareness campaigns that emphasize the significance of a balanced and nutritious diet can be implemented to address the social and cultural factors that contribute to malnutrition. It is also possible to implement government policies and programs to increase food accessibility and availability, particularly in rural and low-income areas. Additionally, by enhancing access to healthcare and nutrient-dense food options, initiatives to combat poverty and inequality can also aid in the reduction of malnutrition.

How do government initiatives work?

  • Eat Right India Movement: A public service event planned by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) for citizens to encourage healthy eating.
  • POSHAN Abhiyan: The Ministry of Women and Child Development launched the initiative in 2018, with the goal of lowering anemia, undernutrition, and stunting (among young children, women, and adolescent girls).
  • Mid-day Meal (MDM) Program: The MDM Program seeks to improve schoolchildren's nutritional status and does so in a way that directly and favorably affects enrollment, retention, and attendance.
  • BMMVY: Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana A maternity benefit program, funded centrally and run by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, is being implemented in all districts of the nation as of January 2017.
  • Food Fortification:Food fortification, also known as food enrichment, is the process of improving the nutritional value of staple foods like rice, milk, and salt by adding important vitamins and minerals like iron, iodine, zinc, Vitamin A & D. 
  • National Food Security Act, 2013: The Targeted Public Distribution System allows up to 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population to receive subsidized food grains distribution System.
  • Indradhanush Mission: It aims to immunize children under the age of two and pregnant women against 12 Vaccine-Preventable Diseases (VPD).
  • Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme: The ICDS Scheme, which began in 1975, provides a package of six services to children aged 0 to 6, pregnant women, and lactating mothers.

Private Sector Initiatives: 

Through corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives and partnerships with government agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the private sector can play a significant role in addressing malnutrition in India.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Initiatives: Many Indian companies have CSR programs aimed at improving nutrition and health outcomes for underserved communities. Among these initiatives are feeding kids in schools for free or at a reduced cost, donating wholesome foods to food pantries, and aiding programs that promote good nutrition.

Public-Private Partnerships: By combining their respective strengths, the private sector and governmental organizations or non-profit organizations can more successfully combat malnutrition. To support government nutrition programs, for instance, private businesses can contribute money or technical know-how, or they can collaborate with NGOs to put food distribution and nutrition education initiatives into action.

Product Innovation: Private businesses may also contribute to the creation of cutting-edge solutions to the malnutrition problem. For instance, some businesses have developed ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTFs), which are calorie and nutrient-dense and can be used to treat kids with severe acute malnutrition.

Supply Chain Management: Private businesses can also enhance the availability and affordability of wholesome foods for consumers by enhancing the supply chain. To transport perishable foods to rural areas, for instance, some businesses are working to build cold chain infrastructure. 

Employee Health and Nutrition: By offering healthy food options in their cafeterias, encouraging healthy lifestyle behaviors, and providing healthcare services, private businesses can also improve the health and nutrition of their own employees.

Overall, by providing financial resources, technical know-how, and creative solutions to support government and NGO efforts, the private sector can play a crucial role in combating malnutrition in India.

What Should be the Way Forward?

India needs a multifaceted strategy to combat hunger and malnutrition that involves the public sector, business community, civil society, and individuals. 

Here are some possible next steps:

Increase the productivity of agriculture: Boosting productivity in agriculture by investing in infrastructure, technology, and research can assist improve food production while also ensuring that nutritional foods are accessible and feasible.

Address Poverty and Inequality: By tackling poverty and inequality with targeted interventions like cash transfers, low-income communities may experience fewer cases of hunger and malnutrition.

Expand Nutrition Programmes: Expanding coverage to underserved areas and strengthening current nutrition programmes will assist improve the health and nutritional condition of children and other vulnerable groups.

Promote Healthy Eating Habits: Increasing dietary habits and preventing malnutrition can be accomplished by promoting healthy eating habits through public awareness campaigns and nutrition education programs.

Encourage Public-Private Partnerships: By encouraging public-private partnerships, malnutrition can be more successfully addressed by combining the advantages of both sectors.

Invest in Healthcare: Improving maternal and child health outcomes can be achieved by funding healthcare, which also includes maternal and pediatric care. 

Encourage Innovation: Promoting innovation in areas like product development, food fortification, and supply chain management can help increase the availability and affordability of nutrient-dense foods. 

In the end, combating hunger and malnutrition in India necessitates an ongoing effort and all-encompassing strategy involving numerous stakeholders cooperating to achieve a common objective.

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